Iceland: Hakarl aka Fermented Shark

What better way to immerse yourself into the true Icelandic culture than trying the infamous local delicacy of fermented shark aka hakarl. And the best place to try it is at the Bjarnarhofn Shark Museum & Farm on the Snaefellsness Peninsula. This is the oldest and the largest farm producing this delicacy in a family business, although the sharks are not specifically killed these days, but are just a byproduct of fishing in Icelandic waters. The shark that is used for this is the Greenland shark, the second largest shark species in the world. In its raw form, the meat of the Greenland shark is poisonous due to very high content of urea and trimethylamine (a chemical compound that allows some marine animals to dive to great depth and withstand the pressure). The sharks are gutted and cut into blocks that are layered in open wooden boxes that stand in the open air (during the cold months) for 3-6 months and ferment. After this, the blocks are hung to dry for several more months. Eventually – voila! – the fermented shark is served in small cubic pieces with dark bread and a shot of brennivin (Icelandic aquavit). The smell is absolutely atrocious, as the ammonia gets even more concentrated and pronounced – it smells like a urinal in the male toilet that’s never been flushed for weeks. Of you can withstand the smell, the taste is actually quite good, something in between blue and sharp cheddar-tasting morsels of snow-white meat. After initial shock, we are quite a lot of it! Chef Anthony Bordain described hakarl as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he had ever eaten. Chef Gordon Ramsey couldn’t even swallow it and spat it out. And chef Ainsley Harriott described it as “like chewing a urine-infested mattress.” Maybe they are all weak, ‘cause we quite like it! And seeing the hanging shark pieces in the open-air barn and exploring the large museum was totally awesome!.